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Understanding the Lived Effects of Digital ID

– The Engine Room

The Engine Room have released findings on the lived effects of digital ID programs in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Thailand, and Zimbabwe in several languages

By focusing on five countries - Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Thailand - the report uses research on the ground to document the impact that mass data-gathering, and the integration of ID systems, is having on people in marginalized communities.

The following is an overview of the key findings:

  • Legal identity can empower people, but the more data exists, the more surveillance there is
  • Mass data-gathering and ignoring the personal nature  of the data can put vulnerable populations at risk
  • The purpose of obtaining data is not always understood by already-excluded people, and many of the registration locations are inaccessible, meaning even when the system is designed to strengthen the rights of these groups - many are unable to
  • Data sharing, centralized databases and merging IDs can create convenience but decrease data privacy

The authors summarize their key findings with the following headlines:

"While digital ID systems do provide important benefits, such as access to services, our key findings reflect the challenges faced by communities in every site we studied. They include:

Low levels of public and civil society involvement 

Barriers to registration and use

Lack of informed consent

Concerns about data use and protection

Lack of shared language on digital ID

Failure to consider local context."

The report also amplifies the voices of those often left out of the global conversation on digital ID in order to engage the communities that will benefit most from it, with the policy-makers who often put them at risk.

The aim of the report is to facilitate informed and evidence-based advocacy, to be used for social justice.

The report is available in English, Arabic, Spanish and French.

This research is, for us, a step towards more informed, evidence-based advocacy… We hope that findings here will also be used by others in pushing for more context-respecting digital ID systems and to inspire more context-respecting research of sociotechnical systems

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